And 30 Days Came

April 26, 2002
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Sometimes Ottawa just rumbles with rumor. This time it may roar.

We haven't been more intrigued with the comings and goings at li'l Teazers on North Ottawa since local owner Joe Spruit was selling Autodie and Amber Ververka was the Business Journal reporter.

Back to the future: It is unclear whether Autodie (aka Southfield-based Comau Pico) will remain open after March 5. It seems the UAW members (all 483, including some on lay-off) were requested to review and sign a new contract with the parts manufacturer within 30 days. Alas, the contract language was unclear, and the fellows put forth an interrogatory to the management, seeking particular clarification about the m-o-n-e-y. And there was no response, no answer to the questions. And the 30 days ended with the dawn of Feb. 22.

The fellows say Autodie managers posted notes indicating the plant would be closed unless a contract vote was taken.

On Feb. 18, 19, 20 and 22, the managers returned neither Business Journal phone calls, nor offers to buy lunch at Teazers. (Perhaps Charley's Crab would have been the trick … but Charley's parent, C.A. Muer Corp., has been sold. But that's the Market Avenue story.) As of Feb.22 even the Autodie Web site disappeared.

Meanwhile, the fellows are puzzled as to just what's gone wrong in Autodie's bid for work: The process of bidding itself?  Or the problems related to the Big 3 in the east and the bidding acceptance? Or the problems may be tied to Korean automakers and Autodie corporate affiliations. In all, to a person, the Autodie guys just want to work, and to be assured, they said, that work would be available, rather than having to live through contortions to the work schedule. Just two months ago, the member fellows were on pace with questions when some floor workers with seniority dating to the late '60s were let go.  (Oh, and it was just two years ago that Autodie fellows were sent to Mexico to help build "incredible" new dies …)

  • Even as Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education is taking comment from a (very) few district residents regarding Superintendent Patricia Newby's replacement, former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer came to town to talk of workforce diversity (though he was queried in regard to the takeover in Motown).

Archer, keynote speaker at the Economic Club luncheon last week, veered briefly to the topic of school boards.

Can a popularly elected school board govern an urban school district?

"Yes," Archer responded without hesitation.

He explained that Detroit had a unique and peculiar problem that gave rise to working with Gov. John Engler and others to remove that city's elected school board because, Archer said, the school system was being strangled and children were not being educated as they should. Part of the problem was that citizen tax dollars were being used, not in the classroom, but to provide school board members chauffeured limousine service.

A lot of people, both black and white, were leaving the city of Detroit because it didn't have a good public education system, he said, so he supported the removal of the elected school board and its replacement with a mayor-appointed board.

He suspects that when the time comes for Detroit voters to decide whether to stick with an appointed board or go back to an elected board, the majority will chose to stick.

Maybe it's an idea Grand Rapids ought to explore.

Whether there would be the same level of confidence in GRMAYOR's appointments would clearly be interesting. One is reminded of a comment made by a senior Blue Cross Blue Shield executive, who advised that if the governor (or say GRMAYOR) really wants something, he would be the last to argue, lest the guv push him underwater and keep him down.

Still, the mini furor raised in the process of appointing a replacement to the GR school board gives clues as to how politics already envelops the board. Some, including individuals deeply inside those politics, say the board becomes paralyzed with such asides.

It is interesting to note that in May of 2001 a former administrative level GRPS leader noted that if David Bulkowski, Luis Pena and Jeff Steinport were elected to the school board, Patricia Newby would soon after announce her resignation. It is not necessarily any one of the new threesome that caused such action, but the politics behind the scenes in "getting them the seats."

One has to ask, what have we here?

  • Now, back to Market Avenue. Stop spreading rumors that Charley's will close, at least for now. Houston-based Landry's took the bait from the now named J.P. Morgan Chase financial institution for a mere $28.5 million (the bread alone is certainly worth that much). Chase purchased an 80 percent stake in the business in the early '90s, after Michigander Chuck Muer and his wife disappeared in a sailing accident in the Bahamas. HoustonChronicle.com last week indicated the oil types in the region didn't find this to be a purchase worth space in the paper, in terms of size, but also reported the Landry's/Muer transaction was "fairly large for the restaurant industry."

Of the 21 restaurants in the Muer group, Grand Rapids has been among the revenue jewels (even though national business media writes more about the "standout" Gandy Dancer in maize-and-blue territory). Houston reports Muer sales at roughly $60 million. Landry's now owns 213 restaurants in 36 states … including Grand Rapids.

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